18 March 2009

The paper is closing, the sky is falling

Or not. Newspapers are closing and it's easy to fall into, what we call in the trade, decline theorist orientation. That's the impulse and habit to exclaim that the sky is falling, society is going to hell in a handbasket, or people just plain aren't behaving.

The other perspective is called normative-adaptive orientation, whereby we observe societal change and correctly identify how humans and their environments influence each other. The transitions that emerge from that interaction are sometimes awkward. The eventual results are almost always benign. (Notice how I'm not predicting, promoting, or defending "progress.")

This matter of newspapers closing is not so different from the American car industry. (The trend away from print has been obvious for years.) Time to change. But it's much easier to defend the noble pursuit of truth through journalism than the ignoble pursuit of an SUV with a 8-cylinder engine.

And so, last month in San Francisco, at dinner with 4 GenXers, I held my tongue as they tsk-tsk-ed the possibility of the closing of the Chronicle, which lost $50 million last year and may lose even more this year. Well, I used to live in California and I definitely understand the concept of losing the Chronicle. But an old (very old) part of me returns to the first day of Journalism 101 at Syracuse University in 1970. The professor said, "what's the purpose of the newspaper?" And the answers were all that you would expect, including that truth thing. And then the professor chuckled and said, "it's an old joke but it's real: the purpose of the newspaper is to sell the advertising."

Oh, yeah. It's a business. And when a business trend meets an economic downturn, you're going to see change. I appreciate that a reporter facing a lay-off doesn't care a whit about my normative-adapative orientation.

© 2009 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

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